Calgary dental specialists say they have seen a dramatic increase in the number of patients coming in with cracked teeth.
Endodontist Dr. Erin McKenzie specializes in diagnosing and treating cracked teeth. The Calgary dental specialist says over the past two and half years, she’s seen a significant increase in the number of cases.
“It is significant,” McKenzie said. “We are unaware of what we are doing to our teeth and I have seen a massive increase in this. It’s really sad.”
She said the increase is due to higher stress levels in patients. That stress is leading to more tooth grinding, both while people are asleep and awake. The other problem, McKenzie said, is that patients are letting small dental issues morph into cracked teeth.
“People are avoiding or delaying going to the dentist,” she said. “What may have initially been a small chip or a crack in a tooth propagates down the road and results into a completely split tooth and then the tooth needs to be removed… otherwise it may have been saved with a crown.”
She said cracks in teeth can progress slowly over the years with people unaware of the damage.
The Calgary endodontist uses 3D imaging at her southwest clinic that allows her to precisely evaluate the tooth and the adjacent structures.
“We can pick up on cracks a lot earlier and it’s a lot more accurate to determine the long-term prognosis of the tooth,” McKenzie said.
“If these things are left untreated, it can result in significant pain and bone loss and it is very noticeably increased since the pandemic started.”
Dentists suggest seeing a mental health professional about what is causing your stress and to use a mouth guard to prevent grinding.
Botox injections are also used in the jaw muscles, and in some cases, braces are recommended to fix the bite alignment that may be causing the grinding.
“We get lots of referrals to help people, and sometimes we can help them and sometimes we can’t,” said Dr. Kim Fuhrman, with Bankers Hall Endodontists.
Fuhrman echoed it has become more common to see people with cracked teeth in the past few years.
“I had eight people in for exams last Wednesday, and of those eight exams, five of them were fractured teeth severe enough that I told them, ‘sorry I can’t help you’ and we referred most to a periodontist or to an oral surgeon to consider having an implant.”
Fuhrman said the best thing people can do is to see a dental professional before things get worse. He added that mouth guards alone aren’t necessarily going to solve the problem.
“Mouth guards are one tool,” he said. “Ultimately, a person’s habits are part of it and the stresses in their life. So treating just one aspect of that often is disappointing.
“A dentist can’t just give a person a mouth guard and expect it to work. I often see people with sensitive teeth go to the dentist and the dentist has given them a mouth guard but they’ve never gone back to have it adjusted to see if it’s been doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s not a simple fix. Especially the drugstore type, (they) can do more harm than good.”
While measures like mouth guards can cost over $500, the cost of not preventing the problem is enough to lead to more stress.
“If we can find issues early on then it may be just a small filling compared to a fractured tooth that would need a crown and a root canal,” said Dr. Bruce Yaholnitsky, former president of the Alberta Dental Association and College.
“Early is always better, and from a financial standpoint, it’s going to be less expensive for a person too.”
Signs of teeth grinding are an aching jaw in the morning, headache and sore teeth, but experts say sometimes people may not even realize they are grinding.
According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Research in Dentistry, identification of bruxism or teeth grinding can present a challenge for dental professionals and often goes unnoticed until a tooth fracture occurs.
The study says screening of patients for bruxism should be paid attention to during the pandemic and that dentists should become more familiar with diagnosing bruxism and techniques for reducing high levels of stress.